Dance company ready for first performances
URBANA — Armed with a master's of fine arts degree in dance, Kate Insolia last summer founded a dance company of a different kind.
Her auditions were open to people of all ages and ability — or lack of dance skills. And she aimed to explore not just physical movement but a variety of emotions as well.
Now she and her Urbana Dance Company are ready to present their first public performances, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, in the ballroom of the newly renovated Urbana Landmark Hotel.
In the two evening shows, the dancers will explore the social, political and interpersonal dynamics of oppressive behavior.
When Insolia started the company last summer, her goal was to try to have her dancers come to understand how to live for themselves and others.
"I think that is what we are trying to figure out together," she said via email. "In this society, we are consistently caught in making choices between not good and not too bad, from the food we eat, the air we breathe and the working conditions we have to take on for money.
"The Urbana Dance Company uses dance and performance to contradict the discouragement so that we can keep moving in a direction of life, health and hope."
At rehearsals — over three hours on Sunday afternoons at the Phillips Recreation Center in Urbana — Insolia has taught a variety of styles and forms, from Barbara Mettler technique to release technique to contact to hip-hop.
"But mostly, I was pushing and pulling and thinking together with them as a team on a variety of ways we can get close to one another, talk about difficult issues, bring this into the dancing body and have fun together at the same time," she said.
The dancers in the company range in age from 18 to 50 and include students, townies and internationals. Some studied ballet intensively when they were young but haven't practiced in years. Some are ballroom dancers and teachers. And some just love to move but have not had much formal dance instruction, if any.
Besides exploring movement, the company has had support groups discuss issues of racism, classism, the stigma of mental illness, Jewish oppression, religion, the politics of being a teenager, the degradation of the environment — and what it means to lead.
"Creating a supportive space where we could laugh and cry about our experiences and figure out how to show ourselves with one another has been groundwork toward creating this evening-length work," Insolia said.
Most of the rehearsals begin with company members — an eclectic group — hanging out for 20 minutes so that the dancers can engage with one another. A warmup to music follows and lasts 30 to 90 minutes; some are structured with ballet floor exercises, Cunningham Technique or structured improvisation. Other warmups are less formal, like a big jam.
"Many times, our warmups begin in a circle and we all do a 'round-the-world' warmup where I do a series of moves and everyone follows, then I pass it to someone else and they do a series of moves and we all follow and so on until everyone has gotten a chance to lead the group," Insolia said. "This brought us together."
That process influences the choreography and allows it to shed light on how racism, sexism, genocide and oppression show up in interactions.
"Then from here we can start tackling these issues very gently," she said. "I like to help people contradict the places where they are stuck or struggle. Sometimes that is just highlighting where people are struggling, giving them a chance to be heard and seen. Other times it is actively having people do things outside of their comfort zone that will hopefully provide them a fuller vocabulary of movement and ways of being in the world."
If you go
What: "The Urbana Dance Company Presents!" a performance that explores the social, political and interpersonal dynamics of oppressive behavior, with music scores by Jonah Weisskopf, Dave Samuel and Cameron Lowe
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Ballroom Hall, Urbana Landmark Hotel, 210 S. Race St., U
Cost: Friday concert is free; Saturday, $5
Sponsors: city of Urbana Arts Grant; Urbana Park District; the Barbara Mettler Foundation
Note: The show contains adult language.